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The Farewell Dossier: Duping the Soviets



During the Cold War, and especially in the 1970s, Soviet intelligence carried out a substantial and successful clandestine effort to obtain technical and scientific knowledge from the West. This effort was suspected by a few US Government officials but not documented until 1981, when French intelligence obtained the services of Col. Vladimir I. Vetrov, “Farewell,” who photographed and supplied 4,000 KGB documents on the program. In the summer of 1981, President Mitterrand told President Reagan of the source, and, when the material was supplied, it led to a potent counterintelligence response by CIA and the NATO intelligence services.

President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger conceived of détente as the search for ways of easing chronic strains in US-Soviet relations. They sought to engage the USSR in arrangements that would move the superpowers from confrontation to negotiation. Arms control, trade, and investment were the main substantive topics. The Soviets viewed détente as “peaceful coexistence” and as an avenue to improve their inefficient, if not beleaguered economy using improved political relations to obtain grain, foreign credits, and technology. (1) In pure science, the Soviets deserved their impressive reputation, and their space program demonstrated originality and accomplishment in rocket engineering–but they lacked production know-how necessary for long-term competition with the United States. Soviet managers had difficulty in translating laboratory results to products, quality control was poor, and plants were badly organized. Cost accounting, even in the defense sector, was hopelessly inadequate. In computers and microelectronics, the Soviets trailed Western standards by more than a decade.

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